§ MR. SOTHERON
said, he would now beg to bring forward the Motion of which he bad given notice, which was to the effect that no public Bill should be read in that House a second time after the 1st day of July without special leave. He thought that it was desirable to introduce this subject early in the Session in order to obviate the pressure of business which always accrued towards the latter portion of the Session. He found that the House sat during the month of July last year on twenty-two days, and the aggregate length of those sittings was 240 hours. The number of Orders of the Day appointed during that month was no less than 508. 1645 It might, perhaps, be said that last year was an exceptional one; but he found that in the preceding year the number of days during which the House sat, and also the number of Orders of the Day, were even greater than last year. To remedy this he urged the House to support his Motion, the effect of which, if adopted, might easily be seen, when he told the House that out of the 109 Bills which received the Royal Assent last year, forty-seven were read after the 1st of July; so that nearly half of the legislation of the Session passed through the most important part of its process after that day. He considered that his propositions would prove much more satisfactory to Members than the violent process to which they were usually obliged to submit their Bills late in the Session. His Resolution having reference to the introduction of continuance Bills was rendered necessary by the mischievous practice that had grown up of late years of introducing late in the Session Bills which were said to be merely continuance Bills, but which often contained new clauses. He only made this proposition as an experiment, and if it should be found to work injuriously it might be flung aside; but he hoped the House would adopt it, unless a better plan should be produced either by the Government or by any other hon. Gentleman.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House will not allow any Public Bill to be read a second time after the 1st day of July, without special leave."
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, he must call upon the House to hesitate before they adopted the propositions of the hon. Gentleman, as he did not think they would have the good effect anticipated by the hon. Gentleman, but, on the contrary, would be attended by evils which he had not contemplated. If his first proposition were to operate at all, it would have the effect of pressing all the Bills introduced into that House to a second reading before the 1st of July, and the practical result would be that Committees on Bills would be postponed until after that day. This would not by any means lessen the labour of the House or decrease the time it would spend upon these Bills in the latter part of the Session. The second reading of unimportant Bills could come on at any time; but if many of them were brought on in the early part of the Session, they would be a fruitful source of conversations, while if they were introduced at the end of the 1646 Session they would not produce, as they would not require, any debate. But what would be the effect of such a rule upon Bills of importance? Why, it would introduce an additional opportunity of discussion upon the question "that leave be given for this Bill to be read a second time," and a great advantage would thereby be afforded to those who wished to delay such Bills. The evil, therefore, would rather be increased than diminished. Then, had his hon. Friend considered the subject of the Lords' Bills? [Mr. SOTHERON said he proposed to except them.] The House of Lords had last Session passed a Resolution that they would not read a Bill which was sent up from that House after a certain day in July, but they were in a different position from that House. At the beginning of the Session they laboured under a perfect dearth of Bills, and towards the middle of July there was a deluge poured on them which they were quite unable to contend against. But the evil under which that House laboured was not a dearth of business before the 1st of July, but a plethora of business from the beginning to the end of the Session, and the problem was how that vast amount of business should best be despatched. No doubt there was much to and fault with in the present system, but be had often wondered, considering the in attention with which a great deal of business was done, how it was got through with so much credit, on the whole, to the House. There was a given amount of debating and talking power in the House. It did not much matter whether the number. of Bills to be disposed of was great or small, for until all that debating and talking power had been exhausted scarcely my business was done. Thus, in the early nut of the Session there was an immense amount of discussion and very little business, while in the latter part of the Session there was very little discussion and an immense deal of business was got through: If the hon. Gentleman could diminish the business of the House, or suggest any method by which that disposition to debate which possessed many hon. Members could be got rid of, there might be some tope of the business being despatched by he middle of July; but until that could be done he believed the evil could hardly be remedied. He also objected to the second proposition of his hon. Friend, as what were called continuance Bills—a modern, and not a very advantageous in- 1647 vention—were Bills which were passed because it was supposed that the House had not time fully to consider the matters to which they related. If such Bills were to be brought in before Easter, there would be no reason for introducing them at all, as Parliament might be supposed to have time to discuss and decide upon them between that period and the end of the Session. The hon. Member's third proposition was that after Whitsuntide Orders of the Day should have precedence over Notices of Motion on every day of the week. The practice of the last three or four years had been for the Government to propose after Whitsuntide to dock independent Members of one of their Motion days. If this Resolution were agreed to, no independent Member would have a chance of bringing before Parliament any subject which he might consider of importance. This was not a power that Members would be willing to confer upon the Government, and the practical effect would be that Members would bring those matters forward upon the Motion to go into Committee of Supply, when the time and attention of the House ought to be given to the voting away of the public money. At present Members never knew when Supply was coming on, for there were usually a dozen Motions upon the paper before going into Committee, and this inconvenience would be greatly increased by the adoption of the Resolutions of the hon. Member.
§ MR. W. WILLIAMS
said, he regarded the third proposition of the hon. Member as the greatest innovation ever attempted upon the privileges of Members of that House. To say that Members should have no opportunity of bringing on Motions after Whitsuntide would be to say that they had nothing to do but to vote for or against the Government.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, that the proposals of the hon. Gentleman were at first sight very plausible, like many others of a similar kind. There was no question that the great accumulation of business during the Session of Parliament was attended not only with inconvenience to Members of the House, but that also in certain cases it was detrimental to the public service. But the House ought to recollect for what purpose they were there assembled. The convenience of Members was frequently a matter of public interest, because, unless hon. Members were able to bring a due share of physical strength and the power of mental attention to the 1648 performance of their duties, the public interest would suffer. But all attempts to confine and restrict their proceedings by rules set upon their deliberations by themselves ought to be considered with the greatest caution. A broad distinction existed between the functions of private and public business. When private persons and parties came to that House for legislative powers, they were properly bound to look beforehand, and they had nothing else to do except to conform to the rules laid down for the conduct of the business they wished to bring before Parliament. But matters regarding the public interest were of a totally different kind. They were governed by circumstances which could not be subjected to fixed regulations with regard to the time when they should be brought forward, and in attempting to tie themselves down by rules that were not applicable to fluctuating circumstances, they would give themselves more trouble than by letting matters take their usual course. He agreed with his hon. Friend (Mr. Bouverie) in thinking that the proposal that after a certain day Bills should not be read a second time would only add another stage to those Bills, because Members who had charge of Bills that were not read a second time by that date would, instead of moving the second reading, make a preliminary Motion that leave should be given for the Bill to be read a second time, and the regulation would thus only defeat its own purpose. It was true that the House of Lords had established a rule similar in effect to the second one proposed by the hon. Member (Mr. Sotheron), but the result was that when they came to apply it the rule could not be maintained, and the House of Lords were obliged to break through it in many instances. It was impossible that the Government, in bringing in Bills, could foresee all that might be required for the public interest. The Oxford University Bill of last Session very properly took a length of time for consideration, but were the Government on that account to be precluded from carrying on other Bills that were also of great importance to the public interest? Private Members might bring in Bills which might be put off, from the length of time taken up in the discussion of Bills like the Oxford University Bill, but why should they and the public be subject to the loss of those measures, as would be the case if the House resolved that after a certain day those Bills should not be carried on? 1649 He was very much against all rules that at a certain hour of the night business of a certain kind should be carried on, or that Members should be limited in the length of their speeches. These were all very plausible things, and many times would be very convenient to the Members of the Government, whose duty it was to sit there and listen, and who were not always very much amused by what they heard. But, looking at that House as a great and important machine for legislation, and assembled to deliberate on great interests, he thought they ought to have their hands free and unshackled in matters of public interest. Therefore he should not be disposed to agree either to the first or second proposal of the hon. Gentleman. With regard to the third, however tempting the bait might be to the Members of the Government, he must exercise an act of self-denial, and say he did not think it fair on Members of that House to impose restrictions on them. It might be, and he thought the House often considered it was, desirable that after a certain period of the Session either every Thursday, or every alternate Thursday, should be considered as the only notice days. He thought a regulation of that sort really conducive to the public interest. It might be better that the rule should be established early in the Session, that Members might know by what time they must bring forward their measures, if they wished to have them discussed; but he could not accept on the part of the Government that full and entire command of the week which the said Resolution would give them. With all deference to the hon. Member, and quite understanding the view with which he had brought forward these Resolutions, he was not prepared to agree in any one of them.
§ MR. SOTHERON
said, he was perfectly aware that the Resolutions ought not to be adopted, unless they met with general support; and, having positively met with no support at all, he would not press them on the House.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.